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Riot stuck in point-counterpoint

New Delhi, Aug. 8: Two decades after hundreds of Sikhs were dragged out of homes and massacred, their families could still be as far away from justice as they were in those nightmare days.

On every recommendation of the Nanavati commission, which probed the 1984 riots, the government in its action taken report appeared to evade taking any legal steps.

The first recommendation by retired judge G.T. Nanavati is on the role of police officers. It says “the government should initiate appropriate action” against them and “those policemen” with such officers.

The government’s action taken report, which was tabled along with the recommendations of the probe panel in Parliament today, explains that it “has noted with concern the conduct of the police officials”.

But “since these officials have retired from service, there are legal difficulties in initiating any departmental proceedings at this point of time”, the government says.

Over 4,000 Sikhs were butchered in reprisal attacks after then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s assassination. The assassination was in revenge for her decision to send the army to flush Sikh separatists out of the Golden Temple, Sikhism’s holiest shrine, in Amritsar.

“There was a colossal failure of maintenance of law and order... the course of events do disclose that the attitude of the police force was callous,” the commission said.

On Jagdish Tytler, a junior minister in the Congress-led government at the Centre, the commission had said he “very probably” had a hand in organising attacks on Sikhs and the government should look into this aspect and “take further action as may be found necessary”.

The government’s report says it is “clear from the observation that the commission itself is not absolutely sure about his involvement in the attacks” and in “criminal cases a person cannot be prosecuted simply on the basis of probability”.

About Dharam Das Shastri, another high-profile Delhi Congress leader, the commission had said he “instigated” his men to “organise attack on Sikhs” and recommends “further investigation”. But the government’s action taken report says two of Shastri’s men were “acquitted” by the trial court and the Congress leader was not named as an accused in the case.

The commission says witnesses have accused Sajjan Kumar, another Delhi Congress leader, “specifically” and yet “no charge-sheets were filed against him and the cases were terminated as untraced”. It recommended that the “untraced” cases “still deserved to be re-examined” and mentions the FIR numbers 250/84, 307/94 and 347/91.

But the government says “no fresh material/evidence has been produced before (the) Justice Nanavati Commission against Sajjan Kumar” and “under the circumstances, it will not be just to reopen the case” against him.

Only on the then lieutenant governor of Delhi, P.G. Gavai, does the government say “Gavai was replaced by M.M.K. Wali' on November 4, 1984” on the day the riots ended.

For all the recommendations, the government has given explanations to evade initiating a case.

“So many people were murdered during the riots, but now it seems the killers will walk away free,” said Gurbax, a member of the Sikh community, who claimed to have witnessed the riots.

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